Lost in Land's End

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic
The weather was whimsical, blessing me with incredible sunshine one moment, pouring frigid rain on me the next. However, sunshine or rain, Cornwall’s coastal area was breath-taking. The ragged cliff lines, carved into peculiar shapes by the elements since antediluvian times, cleaved into the crystalline, deep-blue ocean...

Submitted: October 05, 2014

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Submitted: October 05, 2014

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“How do you think big banks should be regulated?” an American asked me, right after I told him I was an economics major.

Above us, the ominous clouds covered the whole sky foreboding another round of hail that had everyone scrambling to get away from the place. I was now at a bus station with an old American couple from southern Virginia, waiting for a ride back to my hostel in Penzance. The man’s wife had walked away from us to take pictures of the hail drops around us, obviously not interested me or in the topic her husband was talking about. The drops were mostly 5mm – 1 cm in diameter, by far the largest hail that I had experienced, and they were scattered all around us. There was one plant that had managed to collect thirty or so hail drops on one of its large leaves. I wasn’t really sure what sort of plant it was, but it was pretty.

“I personally think we should raise the deposit reserve requirement ratio for large banks. There is this conservative economist…” the man continued. I pretended to listen with a smile on my face, nodding once in a while. I was a bit perturbed by how Japanese I really was. The Japanese 3S, it used to be called: silent, smiley, sleepy. I wasn’t really sleepy though. In my head, I was screaming. Talk about the weather for god’s sake! This is Britain…and it just hailed. The man continued to prattle on about bank regulations, and I kept smiling and nodding.

I had not expected Cornwall to be so cold in April. I was backpacking around the area after finishing up my second term as a visiting student at Oxford. The weather was whimsical, blessing me with incredible sunshine one moment, pouring frigid rain on me the next. However, sunshine or rain, Cornwall’s coastal area was breath-taking. The ragged cliff lines, carved into peculiar shapes by the elements since antediluvian times, cleaved into the crystalline, deep-blue ocean. For miles and miles the cliff line continues, interrupted occasionally by small, picturesque beaches, where children of nearby towns frolicked. Such was the scenery I encountered as I hiked from Land’s End, the most westerly point of England, to Minack Theatre, an open-air theatre constructed atop a cliff.

In all honestly, there really wasn’t anything to see in Land’s End except for a sign that said “Land’s End” – yes, I took a picture there in five seconds, and then I had nothing left to do. There is a line of souvenir shops and game arcades that just might possibly – I’m not sure – entertain kids, but a backpacker has not business there. When I arrived at Land’s End, I found that I was one of only a dozen or so tourists at the place. I quickly walked past the line of souvenir shops to take a picture of the Land’s End sign. As I was asking a tourist nearby to take a picture of me, I heard a chatter of voices that made me shudder. Japanese. I glanced towards the direction the voice was coming from to see a Japanese family approaching. Right away, I thanked the fellow tourist for taking the picture and walked briskly away.

I have always avoided my fellow Japanese when I’m backpacking. When I hear Japanese tourists speaking on foreign soil, it always makes me cringe. Maybe it’s the fact that it just ruins the mood. When Japanese is spoken, an extraordinary journey suddenly degrades into an ordinary trip, a routine experience. The sense of being all alone, without anyone who really knows you. The sense that you are cut off from your home. The loneliness that heightens the five senses. In an instant, a single Japanese family can crumble all of that. I quickly made my way out of Land’s End.
There are two hiking paths that connect Land’s End to Minack theatre. One hugs the rocky sea shore for five miles, treating hikers with magnificent views, while the other veers off inland away from the dangerous cliffs. There were some dilapidated fences with worn-out signs that asked hikers not to enter the former, so I obeyed my instincts and entered anyway. In some places, the path was so close to the edge of the cliff that one misstep would have ended my life. I followed this path for 3 hours or so, stopping every so often to take pictures of rocks carved by the sea into queer shapes, until I reached Minack theatre.
Unlike Land’s End, Minack Theatre is a sight to behold. Seated next to a beautiful beach, atop a granite outcrop, it embodied the beauty of Cornwall. The theatre on a sunny day looks like a place that came straight out of a fantasy novel. Fortunately, dark clouds had parted to give way to sunlight by the time I arrived. I took in the calm beauty of the place, while regretting the fact that I did not have the chance to see a real play being staged there.

It was two hour later that I left the place. As if on a cue, the dark clouds rolled in and suddenly began gunning us with ice pebbles. I ran into a telephone booth by a bus station to get away from the hail.
Twenty minutes later, I was making my introduction to the old couple.
“I used to live in Virginia too, actually. Northern Virginia, though,” I said.
“Really? What a coincidence. Well…we try to actually keep away from northern Virginia. Too many people. No offense,” the old man rambled on.
Don’t worry. The feeling is mutual. I don’t want to be lumped in with you lot either.

 

I remember northern Virginia as a place where I first experienced the true wonders of nature. In a manner very much like Japan, the four seasons each competed to showcase the most captivating aspects of nature. In spring, cherry blossoms bloomed along the Potomac around Washington D.C. and elsewhere. In summer, deer herds came onto our backyard to feast on some of the fruits on the trees. In autumm, squirrels scurried around, hoarding food in preparation for the coming winter. In winter, we were sometimes greeted by trees and all other vegetation encased in thin layers of ice. As the winter sunlight sprinkled onto the trees and deflected off every twig and every leaf, the world became bathed in blinding white light. I still remember with joy how I walked out of my house on such mornings, felt the chilly air biting into my skin, and felt the sheer exhilaration of witnessing such an enthralling sight.
The most captivating scenes I came across were actually in summer though: fireflies. Hundreds of fireflies softly enveloped everything in green. An overwhelming calm sets in when one encounters such scenery. Not only your eyes but your sense of hearing, smell, and touch are all drowned in the soothing light, and everything else is forgotten. Mundane sounds, fragrance, and worries are all cast away, as you become one with the light. Or maybe it was that there was no sound, smell or worry. Surely, owls had to have forgotten to coo before such beauty. Surely, flowers had to have forgotten how to emit their fragrance draped in such beauty. Surely, my brain had to have forgotten how to think.
Interesting enough, contrary to the natural beauty that festoon this area, we are quite the city people. In fact, some people in northern Virginia would like to think that we are northerners. Technically speaking, we along with our northern neighbour, Maryland, are in the South. Moreover unlike Maryland, we were in the Confederacy during the Civil War – a past we would like to change if it were possible. Despite all external efforts to lump us in with southern Virginians, there is a huge gulf between the north and the south. Culturally, we are suburbanites and urbanites. We embrace social liberalism. Down south, conservatism is virtue. They are a different species of people.

 

Light rain was spattering on the window. The bus moved away from the station, leaving behind the small figures of the old couple. They were taking a different bus. I remembered my days in Virginia as I went through dozens of pictures I had taken during the day. In retrospect, the chasm between northern and southern Virginia was superficial and silly, but, there are some people who are so damn good at kindling dumb emotions.

I put my camera away and closed my eyes as I spaced out from exhaustion. The weather…what a wonderful conversation topic.  


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